As temperatures drop, Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey joined other lawmakers in calling for an increase in funding for heating assistance for the needy.

Casey and 16 other senators in a letter to President Barack Obama called for an increase in funds for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, hoping to restore some funding cuts to the program over the last few years.

Casey is requesting a federal funding increase from this year's $3.02 billion to $4.7 billion for 2013-2014, noting that the program has been cut from a high of $5.1 billion in 2009-10. Last year, federal support was $3.47 billion.

Casey cited Moody's economist Mark Zandi, who said that every dollar spent through LIHEAP has a $1.13 impact on the economy.

With Washington D.C. and the airwaves full of talk about the "fiscal cliff" and the federal budget deficit, Casey attempted to put his call for more spending into perspective. He noted that he has supported $1 trillion in budget cuts and will support more. But cutting spending to help people heat their homes is not an option for him.

"We need to make cuts ... smart cuts," he said. "We also need to protect the vulnerable people without power, without lobbyists and without influence, people who need elected officials to stand up for them."

He said LIHEAP funding has declined and there's not enough funding to help those who are eligible.

"Our fellow Pennsylvanians are left, literally - not figuratively - out in the cold," he said.

While two Republicans have signed onto the letter, Casey is bracing for resistance. Casey pointed out what he sees as an irony: elected officials in Congress, with government salaries, government health care and government benefits, slashing the budgets of government program benefiting others.

"People are struggling to keep the heat on while politicians are pontificating in Washington about other things," he said. "People are preaching fiscal responsibility and doing things inconsistent with that."

Contact the writer: dfalchek@timesshamrock.com